As we have just completed the festival of Chanukah, I wanted to make the high profile that Chanukah has brought to the community this year the theme of my first piece since I was honoured to have been appointed as the Interim CEO of the JLC.
Chanukah arrived earlier in the solar calendar than it has been for over a hundred years and, according to the Jewish Chronicle, earlier than it will be for another 70,000 years. What struck me was the way that the Jewish community in the UK shared this festival with the wider UK community. On the first night, Prime Minister David Cameron threw open the doors of No.10 Downing Street to around 200 fortunate representatives of the community for a Chanukah lighting, led by the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis. I have been privileged to be in No.10 Downing Street many times during my career in sport, but never have I seen the domestic seat of British Government so warm and joyful as on that evening when it was full of Chanukah songs, wonderful kosher food, Jewish mingling and a large and prominent menorah. We should be so grateful that this community’s relationship with Government is close enough for there to be mutual recognition of this most visual of festivals.
Then, on the second night, a record crowd of 7,000 people packed the famous Trafalgar Square in London to witness Chanukah in the Square. A huge menorah was lit in a ceremony featuring the Mayor of London Boris Johnson and the Chief Rabbi. In few other cities would such a joyful celebration of Chanukah take place, and our partners Chabad-Lubavitch UK and the London Jewish Forum have done so much to make this an annual fixture in the calenda.r We are privileged to be able to live and thrive in a country which celebrates the diversity of its communities and where we are able to enjoy our religious freedom.
But, there are always reminders of the challenges that we as a community face and these last few weeks have been no different. The Prime Minister offered words of reassurance to the assembled guests at No.10 about the interim deal agreed with Iran, which had caused such concern within the Israeli Government. We will be watching developments carefully with the help of the monitoring carried out by BICOM. Earlier in November, the Fundamental Rights Agency Survey of anti-Semitism in Europe was published. This comprehensive study of attitudes to and perceptions of antisemitism by Jews across Europe reveals anxiety about increases in hate crime which we as a community must remain alert to. Although the excellent cooperation between the CST and Government and law enforcement agencies was recognised as an excellent model, there is no reason at all to be complacent.
As a counterpoint to these challenges, I was heartened to read of the way that the community responded to the World Jewish Relief appeal regarding the terrible impact of Typhoon Haiyan. It shows how the kindness and compassion inherent in our community spreads to global catastrophes and allows us to play our full part in the global response. This is in addition to the fact that we have completed the Autumn fundraising season, when Jewish charities have raised millions of pounds for their important work and when the kind heart of the community has truly been opened.
Closer to home, I enjoyed attending the graduation of the latest group of leaders to complete the Adam Science Foundation Leadership Programme, which our division, Lead, coordinates. Eight talented leaders have completed a years’ worth of high quality leadership training and mentoring, and are now ready to embark on the next exciting stage of their community lay leadership. They are now superbly equipped with the type of leadership tools that people of my generation never had available to us. Listening to their ideas and pledges, I am excited by the opportunities that the next generation of leaders can lead us to.